Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Make Hip Hop, Not War

One of the reasons more diversity is needed in Hip Hop is the lack of political Hip Hop that gets exposure. Whether in the music or through other elements, Hip Hop has long had an activist side, taking on everything from urban decay to Apartheid. Rev. Lennox Yearwood, head of the Hip Hop Caucus, has begun a natioal tour to display this activist side of the culture called "Make Hip Hop, Not War." Yearwood has stood out not only for his application of Hip Hop to the Anti-War movement, but because he is also an officer in the United States Air Force. For his stance he has come under pressure from the USAF, who has branded him a security threat. Listed here are a few articles about Rev. Yearwood's Hip Hop activism, from others and in his own words.

Make Hip Hop, Not War: The Tour

Glen Ford, Black Agenda Report
April 20, 2007

"Our president is addicted to war," said Rev. Lennox Yearwood, head of the Hip Hop Caucus, on the first leg of a national "Make Hip Hop, Not War" tour. "We knew that, but we held out hope that this Congress would have done an intervention. But our Congress is co-dependent. They act just like the person who is addicted, as well."

The young minister spoke at Manhattan's West Park Presbyterian Church, a magnificent edifice that has been condemned to death by gentrification—just as minority communities have been condemned to a slow death by the onrushing forces of hyper-capital. And as black New Orleans was sentenced to death: "Instead of building levees, Bush built bombs," said Yearwood, who was raised in Louisiana.

The massive re-distribution of America's wealth to the rapacious "defense" sector and the most wealthy segment of the population, if allowed to continue, will doom any hope of revitalization of the nation's inner cities. Our cities are rapidly being dispersed by the same forces that that will soon raise million-dollar condominiums on the site of the West Park Presbyterian Church in New York City. We are all facing social death.

Hip hop's massive international appeal has the potential to create rivers of communication among the sufferers. At the heart of the culture—the real one, not the industry-manufactured variety—is the essential internationalism and human compassion of the African American population-at-large, a culture that has been hijacked by huge corporations that put forward a caricature of black life. An array of hip hop artists have joined with Rev. Yearwood to present the other face of black culture and politics.

full article:

Air Force Claims Anti-war Minister is a National Security Threat!

Kevin Zeese
July 3, 2007

With this type of priority no wonder U.S. policy is so counterproductive to real national security.
If you have heard Rev. Lennox Yearwood speak against the continued occupation of Iraq and express outrage at how Katrina has been handled you have no doubt been in inspired. He is a speaker in the mold of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who not only can move people to tears with his words – but more importantly, move people to action. And as the Chairman of the Hip Hop Caucus he reaches youth, especially African American youth – the people the U.S. military needs to continue its occupation of Iraq. This is probably the threat that moved the Air Force to seek to discharge him on the basis of “behavior clearly inconsistent with the interest of national security.”

What is this behavior? Rev. Yearwood has pointed out that the military attack and occupation of Iraq are illegal – that the U.S. is engaged in an illegal war of aggression. And, he argues the Iraq occupation can be opposed not only for its devastating human impact on Iraq civilians, U.S. soldiers and families in both countries, but also because it undermines U.S. national security.

There are many ways in which the Iraq occupation undermines U.S. security. The continued presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is causing violence in Iraq, creating enemies for the United States – enemies that will impact future generations of Americans. The bombings this week in England show how the occupation is exporting tactics to western nations – car bombs are a threat that the UK and U.S. will have a hard time combating. When they hit U.S. shores, as is sadly likely, remember that their roots began to grow in Iraq.

full article:

An Open Letter to America: "Now Is the Time for Us to Stand Up and Stand Together"
By Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr.

Monday 02 July 2007

My Fellow Americans:

The power of our voices against the U.S. occupation of Iraq is reaching the top echelons of the military and the administration. Our government is persecuting Americans who speak out against the U.S. military presence in Iraq. The U.S. military has launched politicized attacks on its own military members and moral leaders who oppose the war to discredit their voices of dissent.

We have seen them target Cpl. Adam Kokesh to stop him from exercising his freedom of speech, after risking his life in Fallujah, Iraq. We have seen them threaten Sgt. Liam Madden for publicly stating the legal fact that the U.S. invasion is a war crime according to the Nuremberg principles. They have targeted Cpl. Cloy Richards, a soldier put in the media spotlight when his mother Tina Richards worked to get him the health care he needs after returning from Iraq eighty percent disabled. These are not happenstance targets. These young men are leaders of the Iraq Veterans Against the War and they are speaking out in a strong and coordinated way.

And now I have been targeted.

full article:


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Caucasian Please! America’s True Double Standard for Misogyny and Racism

Part of the idea of "Fairness" 4 Hip Hop, is a need for equity in analysis and portrayal of the culture. While Hip Hop does indeed have its fair share of misogynist and violent lyrics, such things must be placed into the larger societal context. As pointed out in previous articles, violence and sexism are part of the American reality. Hip Hop was not born somewhere in outer space--it was conceived, birthed and nurtured right here. Yet, as Cornell West notes, the criminalization of black males in American media and popular thought results in a bias towards Hip Hop as some aberration. In the following article Dr. Edward Rhymes points out the hypocrisy of painting Hip Hop as the eternal "bogeyman in blackface," while neglecting the institutional sexism and racism that dominates American mainstream culture.

Caucasian Please! America's Cultural Double Standard For Misogyny & Racism

By Dr. Edward Rhymes
Black Agenda Report

Despite the firing of Don Imus, corporate media continue to attempt to divert attention from long-established institutional sexism, in order to depict Black youth culture as the vector of the disease. The American reality is one of pervasive celebration of violence, in general, and violence against women, in particular -- a white cultural invention. Black rappers, who are owned and controlled by white corporations, did not create this culture of violence and misogyny, but are made the scapegoats for a much deeper national social crisis -- a landscape in which "The Godfather" and "Goodfellas" are revered as "classic" films.


In this composition I will not be addressing the whole of hip-hop and rap, but rather hardcore and gangsta rap. It is my assertion that the mainstream media and political pundits -- right and left -- have painted rap and hip-hop with a very broad brush. Let me be perfectly clear, hardcore and gangsta rap is not listened to, watched, consumed or supported in my home and never has been. I will not be an apologist for anything that chooses to frame the dialogue about Black women (and women in general) and Black life in morally bankrupt language and reprehensible symbols.

In the wake of MSNBC's and CBS's firing of Don Imus, the debate over misogyny, sexism and racism has now taken flight -- or submerged, depending on your point of view. There are many, mostly white, people who believe that Imus was a fall guy and he is receiving blame and criticism for what many rap artists do continually in the lyrics and videos: debase and degrade Black women. A Black guest on an MSNBC news program even went as far as to say, "Where would a 66 year-old white guy even had heard the phrase nappy-headed ho" -- alluding to hip-hop music's perceived powerful influence upon American culture and life (and apparently over the radio legend as well) -- and by so doing gave a veneer of truth to the theory that rap music is the main culprit to be blamed for this contemporary brand of chauvinism.

However, I concur with bell hooks, the noted sociologist and black-feminist activist who said that "to see gangsta rap as a reflection of dominant values in our culture rather than as an aberrant 'pathological' standpoint, does not mean that a rigorous feminist critique of the sexist and misogyny expressed in this music is not needed. Without a doubt black males, young and old, must be held politically accountable for their sexism.

Yet this critique must always be contextualized or we risk making it appear that the behavior this thinking supports and condones -- rape, male violence against women, etc. -- is a black male thing. And this is what is happening. Young black males are forced to take the 'heat' for encouraging, via their music, the hatred of and violence against women that is a central core of patriarchy."

There are those in the media, mostly white males (but also some black pundits as well), who now want the Black community to take a look at hip-hop music and correct the diabolical "double-standard" that dwells therein. Before a real conversation can be had, we have to blow-up the myths, expose the lies and cast a powerful and discerning light on the "real" double-standards and duplicity. Kim Deterline and Art Jones in their essay, Fear of a Rap Planet, point out that "the issue with media coverage of rap is not whether African Americans engaged in a campaign against what they see as violent, sexist or racist imagery in rap should be heard -- they should. ...[W]hy are community voices fighting racism and sexism in mainstream news media, films and advertisements not treated similarly?

The answer may be found in white-owned corporate media's historical role as facilitator of racial scapegoating. Perhaps before advocating censorship of a music form with origins in a voiceless community, mainstream media pundits should look at the violence perpetuated by their own racism and sexism."

Just as the mainstream media and the dominant culture-at-large treats all things "Black" in America as the "other" or as some sort of science experiment in a test tube in an isolated and controlled environment, so hardcore rap is treated as if it occurred in some kind of cultural vacuum; untouched, unbowed and uninformed by the larger, broader, dominant American culture. The conversation is always framed in the form of this question: "What is rap's influence on American society and culture?" Never do we ask, "What has been society's role in shaping and influencing hip-hop?"

Gangsta and hardcore rap is the product of a society that has historically objectified and demeaned women, and commercialized sex. These dynamics are present in hip hop to the extent that they are present in society. The rapper who grew up in the inner-city watched the same sexist television programs, commercials and movies; had access to the same pornographic and misogynistic magazines and materials; and read the same textbooks that limited the presence and excluded the achievements of women (and people of color as well), as the All-American, Ivy-league bound, white kid in suburban America.

It is not sexism and misogyny that the dominant culture is opposed to (history and commercialism has proven that). The dominant culture's opposition lies with hip-hop's cultural variation of the made-in-the-USA misogynistic themes and with the Black voices communicating the message. The debate and the dialogue must be understood in this context.

Popular Culture's Duplicitous Sexism & Violence In Black And White

In a piece I penned a couple of years ago, I endeavored to point out the clear ethnic and racial double-standards of the media and society as it pertains to sex and violence. My assertion was, and remains to be, that the mainstream media and society-at-large, appear to have not so much of a problem with the glorification of sex and violence, but rather with who is doing the glorifying. In it I stated that "if the brutality and violence in gangsta rap was truly the real issue, then shouldn't a series like The Sopranos be held to the same standard? If we are so concerned about bloodshed, then how did movies like 'The Godfather,' 'The Untouchables' and 'Goodfellas' become classics?"

I then addressed the sexual aspect of this double-standard by pointing out that "Sex & The City," a series that focused, by and large, on the sexual relationships of four white women, was hailed as a powerful demonstration of female camaraderie and empowerment.

This show, during its run, was lavished with critical praise and commercial success while hip-hop and rap artists are attacked by the morality police for their depiction of sex in their lyrics and videos. The don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it appearance of Janet Jackson's right bosom during [a] Super Bowl halftime show. ... caused more of a furor than the countless commercials that (also aired during the Super Bowl) used sex to sell anything from beer to cars to gum. Not to mention the constant stream of commercials that rather openly talks about erectile dysfunction medication."

The exaltation of drugs, misogyny and violence in music lyrics has a history that predates NWA, Ice Cube, Ice T and Snoop Dogg. Elton John's 1977 song "Tickin," was about a young man who goes into a bar and kills 14 people; Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska," featured a couple on a shooting spree, and his "Johnny 99," was about a gun-waving laid-off worker; and Stephen Sondheim's score for "Assassins," which presented songs mostly in the first person about would-be and successful presidential assassins.

Eric Clapton's "Cocaine" and the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (LSD) as well as almost anything by Jefferson Airplane or Spaceship. Several songs from "Tommy" and Pink Floyd's "The Wall" are well known drug songs. "Catholic girls," "Centerfold," "Sugar Walls" by Van Halen were raunchy, misogynistic, lust-driven rock refrains.

Even the country music legend Kenny Rogers in his legendary ballad, "Coward Of The County," spoke of a violent gang-rape and then a triple-homicide by the song's hero to avenge his assaulted lover. Marilyn Manson declared that one of the aims of his provocative persona was to see how much it would take to get the moralists as mad at white artists as they got about 2LiveCrew. He said it took fake boobs, Satanism, simulated sex on stage, death and angst along with semi-explicit lyrics, to get the same screaming the 2LiveCrew got for one song. Manson thought this reaction was hypocritical and hilarious.

Other artists like Kid Rock have won commercial success easily and faced only minor battles with the FCC with songs such as: "F**k U Blind. Consider the lyrics of Kid Rock, whose piercing blend of hard rock, metal and misogyny has sold millions of records:

Now if you like the booty come on fellas show it This is your last verse to wax so why would you blow it And if the ladies if you are tired of a man on your fanny Then f--k you go home and watch the tube with granny ... Just look at all the girls that are dying to get some Man, just don't be a wussy

And I'll guarantee you could get a piece of p----

Likewise, consider the lyrics of the rock song "Anything Goes" from Guns 'N Roses:

Panties 'round your knees

With your ass in debris

Doin' dat grind with a push and squeeze

Tied up, tied down, up against the wall

Be my rubbermade baby

An' we can do it all.''

The bad-boy, outlaw rockers have traditionally and consistently been marketed and packaged as misogynistic. Artists and groups such as David Lee Roth, Kid Rock, Metallica, Uncle Kracker, to name a few.

Take note of the following list of rock groups and some of the albums and songs that they have released: American Dog (released an album in 2001 titled, Six Pack: Songs About Drinkin & F**kin), Big C*ck (released an album in 2005 titled: Year Of The C**k -- with titles like Bad Motherf***er, Hard To Swallow & You Suck The Love Out Of Me) W.A.S.P. (released an album in 1983 titled: Animal: F**ks Like A Beast, an album in 1997 K.F.D.: Kill, F**k, Die), Faster Pussycat (released album in 1992 titled Whipped -- with a song titled Loose Booty, 2001 titled: Between The Valley Of The Ultra P**sy, 2006 album titled: The Power Of The Glory Hole -- with such titles as Porn Star and Shut Up & F**k), Lynch Mob (released an album in 2003 titled: Evil: Live -- featuring the song (Tie Your Mother Down) and a compilation album released in 2003 titled C**k'N'Roll: The World's Sleaziest Rock Bands -- displaying "hits" like: Dog Sh*t Boys -- One Minute F**k, Sagger -- The Closest I've Ever Come To F**king Myself and Hellside Stranglers -- Motherf***ers Don't Cry.

In an article by Dana Williams titled, BEYOND RAP: Musical Misogyny, Ann Savage, associate professor of telecommunications at Butler University stated: "It's the repetitiveness of the messages, the repetitiveness of the attitudes, and it builds on people...." "People say rap is dangerous. Yes, rap music does have misogyny, but there has always been an objectification and misogyny against women in music," said Savage. "Yet we focus on the black artists, not the rockers and not even the white executives who are making the big money from this kind of music."

Savage further asserts that the race-based double standard applies to violent content in music as well. "There was the Eric Clapton remake of Marley's 'I Shot the Sheriff,' and there was little to be said. But then you have the 'Cop Killer' song by Ice-T and it's dangerous and threatening."

In this same article Cynthia Fuchs, an associate professor at George Mason University, affirmed that "the public seems far more disturbed by misogynistic lyrics in the music of rap and hip hop artists who are largely black than similar lyrics in rock music, perceived by most as a white genre."

"The flamboyance of rock is understood as performance, rather than from the perspective of personal feelings," said Fuchs, who teaches courses in film and media studies, African American studies and cultural studies. "These guys are seen as innocuous. They appear to be players in the fence of accumulating women in skimpy costumes, but they aren't necessarily seen as violent. The mainstream takes it (hip hop and rap) to represent real-life, so it's seen as more threatening than some of the angry, whiney white boy rock, even though the same messages and images are portrayed."

Moreover, in a piece titled C*ck Rock from the October 21-November 3, 2003 edition of the online music magazine Perfect Pitch, it was revealed that when the Hustler founder and entrepreneur Larry Flynt wanted to combine the worlds of porn (the ultimate god of misogyny) and music he did not turn to rap, but rather to rock.

It was stated that since porn has been mainstreamed, they wanted a more "contemporary" look -- and when they looked for a contemporary look, did they seek out the likes of Nelly, Chingy, 50 Cent or Ludacris? No. Rock legend Nikki Sixx was chosen to "grace" the cover of Hustler's new venture along with his adult-entertainment and former Baywatch star girlfriend Donna D'Errico wearing nothing but a thong and Sixx's arms.

It is my belief that this paradigm; this unjust paradox exists because of the media stereotypes of black men as more violence-prone, and media's disproportionate focus on black crime (which is confused with the personas that rappers adopt), contribute to the biased treatment of rap. The double standard applied to rap music makes it easier to sell the idea that "gangsta rap" is "more" misogynist, racist, violent and dangerous than any other genre of music.

However, I believe that bell hooks conceptualized it best in her essay Sexism and Misogyny: Who Takes the Rap?: "To the white dominated mass media, the controversy over gangsta rap makes great spectacle. Besides the exploitation of these issues to attract audiences, a central motivation for highlighting gangsta rap continues to be the sensationalist drama of demonizing black youth culture in general and the contributions of young black men in particular. It is a contemporary remake of 'Birth of a Nation' only this time we are encouraged to believe it is not just vulnerable white womanhood that risks destruction by black hands but everyone."

Part of the allure of gangsta or hardcore rap to the young person is its (however deplorable) explicitness. The gangsta rapper says "bitches" and "hos," defiantly and frankly (once again... deplorable) and that frankness strikes a chord.

However, it is not the first time that a young man or woman has seen society "treat" women like "bitches" and "hos." Like mother's milk, the American male in this country has been "nourished" on a constant diet of subtle messages and notions regarding female submission and inferiority and when he is weaned, he begins to feed on the meat of more exploitative mantras and images of American misogyny long before he ever pops in his first rap album into his CD player.

Young people, for better or worse, are looking for and craving authenticity. Now, because this quality is in such rare-supply in today's society, they gravitate towards those who appear to be "real" and "true to the game." Tragically, they appreciate the explicitness without detesting or critically deconstructing what the person is being explicit about.

There have been many who have said that even with Imus gone from the airwaves, the American public in general and the Black community in particular will still be inundated by the countless rap lyrics using derogatory and sexist language, as well as the endless videos displaying women in various stages of undress -- and this is true.

However, by that same logic, if we were to rid the record stores, the clubs and the iPods of all misogynistic hip-hop, we would still have amongst us the corporately-controlled and predominantly white-owned entities of Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler and Hooters. We would still have the reality TV shows, whose casts are overwhelmingly white, reveling in excessive intoxication and suspect sexual mores.

If misogynistic hip-hop was erased from American life and memory today, tomorrow my e-mail box and the e-mail boxes of millions of others would still be barraged with links to tens of thousands of adult entertainment web sites. We would still have at our fingertips, courtesy of cable and satellite television, porn-on-demand. We would still be awash in a society and culture that rewards promiscuity and sexual explicitness with fame, fortune and celebrity (reference Anna Nicole, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears).

And most hypocritically, if we were to purge the sexist and lewd lyrics from hip-hop, there would still be a multitude of primarily white bands and principally-white musical genres generating song after song glorifying sexism, misogyny, violence and lionizing male sexuality and sexual conquest.

Dr. Edward Rhymes, author of When Racism Is Law & Prejudice Is Policy, is an internationally-recognized authority in the areas of critical race theory and Black studies.

Rhymes Reasons


Saturday, June 23, 2007

FAIR News- The Other Side of Hip Hop - June 17-23

Hip Hop News these days is either often about who got arrested, locked down and shot down. But beyond controversial lyrics, violence, sexism and the latest media scapegoating, Hip Hop makes news that doesn't get top billing. This week June 17-23: Dead Prez teams up with ACLU to take on Gitmo; Morocco's Hip Hop Revolution.

Hip-Hop Artists Urge Guantanamo Shutdown

by Kerry Sheridan
Tue Jun 19

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Hip-hop musicians, themselves longtime enemies of police and government policies, on Tuesday likened their struggle for justice to that of "war on terror" prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

But in order to call attention to their message to end prisoner torture and urge the closure of the US detention camp, they had to plunge deep into the caverns of the much-hated "establishment" -- the US Congress.

"When I walk through these halls, you know, all the way here, I felt this despicable taste in my mouth," rapper M1 of the group Dead Prez told a news conference inside the Capitol Hill press briefing room.

"I came to this building which claims to represent the people who live in this country and (where people) do some of the most treacherous and demeaning acts to other human beings," said M1, his camouflage baseball cap tilted to one side.

"I know some of you feel me," he said to a burst of applause and calls of "Come on!" from an audience that included button-laden peace activists, fresh-faced congressional interns and members of the media.

full article: Hip-Hop Artists Urge Guantanamo Shutdown

Morocco's Hip Hop Revolution

By Latifa al Arousni

Rabat, Asharq Al-Awsat- Audiences scream and shout in frenzied anticipation for Morocco’s rap bands to perform. Moroccan rap artists are taking the local music scene by storm in what can only be described as a bona fide phenomenon reflecting the voices of the country's younger generation.

Held annually in Rabat, the ‘Mawâzine Rythmes du Monde’ festival dedicates a main section of its artistic program to provide a platform for such artists and groups to perform their music, which it dubs the ‘Mawazine generation’. Musical genres include rap, rock, hip-hop and reggae. Among the names of some of these bands are ‘Zanka Flow’ (Street Flow), ‘H-Kayne’, ‘Fnaïre’ and ‘Kanka’. These bands depend on sharp performances that address their listeners in an immediate and direct manner.

But what is the secret behind the popularity of these groups that draw twenty-something year olds? They perform very simple musical compositions and most of the performers lack musical background. The only redeeming quality to their music is their love for this Western type of music, which they imitate or ‘Moroccan-ize’ by integrating popular Moroccan rhythms such as Gnawa [also Gnaoua].

Full article: Morocco's Hip Hop Revolution


Monday, June 4, 2007

3rd Annual Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival

Founded in 2005, the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival is a series of free events celebrating Hip Hop music and culture and the borough of Brooklyn as a premier cultural destination. The BHF features the best in legendary performers as well as the culture's next brightest talents. Now entering it's 3rd year, the Festival has expanded to include 5 events throughout the month of June, 2007. From a celebration of Stax Records and its 50th anniversary, to a Wildstyle retrospective, to the Brooklyn Stories video contest, or the day of performances, the BHF is a Summer highlight in the NYC calendar.



Thursday, June 7th
Stax Records 50th Anniversary Celebration

WITH LARGE PROFESSOR AND UNCLE RALPH MCDANIELS. A night of funky soul all night long at the powerHouse Arena in Dumbo, BK. Stax Records was home to legendary acts such as Otis Redding, Booker T. and the MGs, The Bar-Kays, Isaac Hayes, The Dramatics, The Staple Singers, The Emotions and so many more. Celebrate 50 years of Soul magic, as well as the re-launch of the label.

Thursday, June 14th
Living Proof: David Alan Harvey/Magnum Photo Festival

In 2005, Magnum Photographer David Alan Harvey began photographing local emcees in the Bronx River Projects, home of hip hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa, whose legendary Zulu Nation parties inspired a new generation of b-boys and -girls. It is their descendants that Harvey has captured in here—from Boogie Down thugs and Hollywood celebs to the local cultures of Spain, France, Gambia, Senegal, South Korea, and Thailand—revealing how Hip Hop has always spoken to the guy on the corner and the girl at the club, because skills and style comes from love.

Friday, June 22nd

In 1982, a small independent movie written, produced, and directed by Charlie Ahearn was released, first in Germany, Japan, and Cannes, then finally in Times Square. Some twenty-five years after its release, Wild Style is truly a classic, having inspired countless artists, musicians, and writers with its unforgettable scenes starring the era’s most memorable personalities. We're celebrating in conjunction with the powerHouse retrospective book Wild Style The Sampler to be released. With a live set by DJ Disco WIZ!

Saturday, June 23rd
All Day Performances and BHF Festivities



Sunday, May 27, 2007

5th Annual H2O International Film Festival - NY

Beyond beats and rhymes, Hip Hop is an all encompassing culture that easily blends with other artistic, intellectual and philosophical pursuits. Though it receives little attention in the mainstream press, Hip Hop Cinema is hardly new. As far back as movies like Wild Style and documentaries like Style Wars, Hip Hop and film have deep roots. This May 31 - June 15 will celebrate the fifth year of Hip Hop Cinema, Education, Art and Culture at the Hip Hop Odyssey International Film Festival (H2OIFF). The films range in discussions as diverse as skin color bias among African-Americans in the short Colour Me Bad: Third Coast Hip Hop, to full length documentaries on the intersections of blood diamonds and Hip Hop like Bling: A Planet Rock to the international I Love Hip Hop in Morocco. Complete with panel discussions, over 50 avant-garde filmmakers, industry experts, community leaders, activists, artists and historians, the 5th Annual H2OIFF will showcase that Hip Hop can be as diverse an artform as any other, when given the space to be so.

5th Annual H2O International Film Festival

May 24, 2007 - New York, NY – Celebrating five years of Hip-Hop Cinema, Education, Art and Culture, the H2O [Hip-Hop Odyssey] International Film Festival (H2OIFF) will showcase the best of Hip-Hop Cinema and the Industry. The festival jumps off with the a special screening and after-party for the feature documentary, Rock The Bells hosted by Bobbito Garcia at APT on Memorial Day, May 28.

The festival will officially take place from May 31, 2007 – June 17, 2007 at the ImaginAsian Theatre and other venues throughout New York City. This year’s festival movie line-up will include the premieres of Wu: The Story of the Wu-Tang, I Love Hip-Hop in Morocco, Waters Rising, Mr. Devious (South Africa), Guilty Or Innocent of Using the N Word (USA/UK), Holy Hip-Hop, Hiphopistan (Turkey), Unsigned, Ghostride The Whip: The Hyphy Movement, Frekuensia Colombiana, Living The Hiplife (USA/Ghana), Remixed In Japan, Skip Hop (Australia), South Coast (UK), and wtf: an okaymentary.

Hip-Hop enthusiasts will get an opportunity to engage in stimulating, thought-provoking panel discussions with over 50 avant-garde filmmakers, industry experts, community leaders, & historians. There will be full days devoted to the youth, women, social justice, Hip-Hop history, & the craft of filmmaking and self-distribution. Dozens of companies and organizations will participate, including Chuck D Mobile, Third World Newsreel, SOHH/FreshFlixx, The Ave Magazine, Listen Up!, Chica Luna, NY Women In Film & Television, African American Women in Cinema, SoonR, Breakthrough.TV, MXGM, Latin Nation, UrbanWord NYC, Video Music Box, Zulu Nation, & the Universal Federation for the Preservation of Hip-Hop.

The festival culminates with the Odyssey Awards extravaganza hosted by Hip-Hop Powerhouse, Ed Lover and legendary Comedian, Paul Mooney on Tupac Shakur’s Birthday. Sponsored by QD3 Entertainment, World Up!, Lyrics To Go, AllHiphop, African Ancestry, & Powerhouse Books. Celebrating 30 Years of Crash Crew, 25 Years of Cold Crush, and 25 Years of Public Enemy. Hip-Hop Celebrities will pay special tributes to the Best Hip-Hop Actor, Ice-T; Trailblazers, Ralph McDaniels, Charlie Ahearn, and Ernest Dickerson; and Legends, Grand Wizard Theodore, Sandra “Lady Pink” Fabara, and the First Lady of Hip-Hop, Cindy Campbell. Some of the presenters include: Ernie Paniccioli, Davey D, Fab 5 Freddy, Michaela Davis, Harry Allen, Pebblee Poo, Immortal Technique, DJ Beverly Bond, and Bizarre Royal. Two exclusive Pre-Odyssey Awards filmmakers’ receptions will take place to honor pioneers Iris Morales, Director of Siempre Pa’Lante!, Kathleen Cleaver, Founder of the Black Panther Film Festival, as well as the late Ted Demme, co-creator of Yo! MTV Raps.

For more info on the 5th Annual H2O International Film Festival, including information films, events and tickets sales, please visit H2OIFF at

For a listing of individual Films at the conference please visit


Saturday, May 26, 2007

FAIR News- The Other Side of Hip Hop - May 20-26

Hip Hop News these days is either often about who got arrested, locked down and shot down. But beyond controversial lyrics, violence, sexism and the latest media scapegoating, Hip Hop makes news that doesn't get top billing. This week May 20-26. Stylin' Up in Australia: Hip Hop Festival "down under" combats social ills and celebrates indigenous roots. Long Island Feminist Hip Hop trio Northern State getting their due.

In Australia the Mob's Gone Hip Hop
By Kathleen Noonan
May 26, 2007

HERE'S the word. Crime is down in Inala, school attendance is up, fewer kids are causing trouble on the streets and it's all because of a hip-hop festival. Cynics may scoff: It's just a hip-hop festival, and not a miracle, they'd say. But miracles come in strange packages. If you want to see one in action, head to the grassy field at the C.J. Greenfields sports complex in Inala today.

There, more than 15,000 people will gather from as far away as Cape York for Stylin' Up, an annual indigenous hip-hop and R&B festival – the largest in Australia of its kind. Stylin' Up is, in short, a bit of black magic.

Music festivals anywhere are hard events to put on, notorious for infighting, politics and bureaucracy that often lead to their downfall. Yet, in its seventh year, Stylin' Up has defied the critics.

Read full article: In Australia the Mob's Gone Hip Hop

Fem Hop You Haven't Heard," An Interview with Northern State
Written by Rob Levy

The ever present NYC hype machine kicked into full gear, creating a buzz and getting Northern State some attention.

There is nothing marginal or gimmicky about Northern State. They are Long Island’s talented, savvy, whipsmart trio of female MCs who now do their thing in New York City. Northern State is Spero (AKA Guinea Love), Hesta Prynn and DJ Sprout. The force of their beats and the passion of their rhymes have led to them being christened as forerunners of a new sub genre, “fem hop.” Although this could be written off as yet another useless moniker laid out by The Man, there is some truth in the genre. Northern State are bringing a loud, intelligent, urgent femininity to hip-hop at a time when it needs something new.

Read full article: Fem Hop You Haven't Heard


Thursday, May 24, 2007

In Defense of Hip Hop- Women's Media Center

In Defense of Hip-Hop

By Nida Khan, Women's Media Center
May 24, 2007

"Hip-hop is the CNN of the ghetto" -- words spoken by legendary artist Chuck D of Public Enemy years before Puffy became a household name and bling a term used by actual CNN anchors. Serving as a mirror to such societal ills as poverty, injustice, drugs and violence, hip-hop -- or more specifically rap music -- has brought realities of urban life and mainstream systematic privilege to the forefront of discussion.

MCs, aka rappers, have opened wounds that many would prefer remained covered via methods that both educate and entertain. Now this mechanism for empowerment and communication is under attack yet again.

While Don Imus searched for a defense against his use of the now notorious words "nappy headed hos" in reference to the Rutgers women's basketball team, he was successful in scapegoating the often-targeted genre of hip-hop. But what Imus and the average citizen fail to grasp is the foundation of this culture or the notion that what you hear on radio airwaves and see on TV doesn't encompass the plethora of diversity within the music.

For several years I've worked within the hip-hop industry in a multitude of capacities. From my vantage point at record labels, recording studios and finally as a music journalist, I've had the honor of sitting down and picking the brains of many hip-hop poets. And poetry and expression is exactly what they produce: words and ideas conjured over the hottest beats. Rappers take complex ideas and transform them into catchy lyrics and rhyming sequences with astuteness and intense precision. Imagine the endless boundaries of MCs if they were all given equal access to education and opportunity that we espouse but rarely see in this country. A chance to pursue the American Dream is precisely what rappers under attack have worked to achieve.

Take a look at the 50 Cents and Jay-Zs of the world. Self-made millionaires, they battled extreme circumstances and in the process established companies that employ and empower others shut out of corporate America. In response to the ongoing controversy, several people have stepped forward. "We are proactive, not just reactive to the Don Imus so-called backlash," explains Dr. Ben Chavis, president/CEO of Russell Simmons's Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, after he and Simmons made recommendations for the recording industry to bleep the words ho, bitch and nigger on the airwaves and on clean CDs.

"The truth is misogyny is not a hip-hop created problem. Misogyny is a deep-seated American society problem that is embedded in the historical evolution of the United States as a nation." The recommendations are meant, he says, to forestall governmental intrusion "on the rights of artists in a democratic society. This is important, and there are some in the media that just don't get it. Self regulation by the industry is not censorship. Good corporate social responsibility is not censorship."

The shift in dynamic from Imus to hip-hop utterly amazes me. Granted I don't condone use of words like ho and bitch towards myself or any other woman, but I understand along with Dr. Ben that rap music isn't the only forum where we see this.

Why don't we target the representation of women and people of color in Hollywood? Why don't we go after the millionaire and billionaire movie directors/producers of the world who represent minority women a majority of the time as the exotic other or the overly sexualized temptress, and minority men as criminals?

Before blaming everything on one facet, we need to analyze all of pop culture and media representation at large. MCs may have an audience via their music, but until you see a Snoop Dogg or a Ludacris with his own televised programming in mainstream news you simply can't juxtapose Imus and hip-hop.

Until rappers have the kind of major network platform that Imus had and will have again, they are not fair game for attack. On the contrary, we need to explore and criticize why we see so few people of color on these networks or working behind-the-scenes in newsrooms in the first place.

For those that are quick to jump on the criticism bandwagon, do they first understand that rap music's foundation was a check on society? That it was a mechanism for the powerless to speak their mind? Do they understand a history of socially and politically conscious music that was designed to mobilize people?

Even today, this music is a reaction to emotions of anger, frustration and inequity of mostly young minority people surviving in a society where the pendulum of justice swings away from them most of the time. In attempts to curb some of the criticism against this form of expression, moves by Dr. Ben Chavis, Russell Simmons and even Rev. Al Sharpton were aimed at targeting the true culprits behind negative/misogynistic music -- record labels and corporations.

On May 3, Tamika Mallory of Sharpton's National Action Network led a March for Hip-Hop Decency in front of Sony, Universal Records and the Time Warner building in Manhattan. "We cannot allow people to use the concept of freedom of speech and censorship as a shield for those who seek to denigrate any members of our society," she explains. "Freedom of speech is critical to freedom but so is the responsibility that comes with it. We are not saying that rappers or anyone cannot speak in any manner they choose. We are saying that record and media companies shouldn't support it if it crosses the line of sexism, racism and homophobia."

Sounds like a wonderful idealistic thought without a doubt, except for the fact that these companies and media outlets have profited countless billions off the backs of rappers, hip-hop culture and the community. It's incredibly difficult for artist/groups with positive or socially conscious messages like a Dead Prez to get signed, and if they do, never will they see radio spins or record sales like their negative counterparts.

In an industry where marketing and radio promotion departments ensure that only certain albums get proper financial backing to guarantee air play and press, many talented people simply get shelved. Radio stations themselves have specific daily play lists, in effect brainwashing the masses with the same songs and the same messages.

I've had rappers straight out tell me that they wanted to go with a specific single from their album but were forced to go with something else. And others have simply said they put out a single about women and money to reel in listeners to a deeper, profound meaning on the album that might otherwise have been ignored. Interesting isn't it?

These days Don Imus is at his ranch contemplating his next move. Chances are he'll return to the airwaves in some capacity in little time, while the young woman or man using music as a means to escape the all but insurmountable obstacles set in her/his path will find it ever more difficult because the world is now watching with keen eyes.

For those who are new to this genre of poetic expression, I suggest watching the new Bruce Willis/Queen Latifah documentary, "Hip-Hop Project." It beautifully captures the essence of what this culture was, is and should be about. Until critics begin to fully comprehend the many layers of hip-hop, its historical context and place in society, they should listen to what the Godfather of it all said to me the other day -- the man who literally started hip-hop with two turntables -- DJ Kool Herc: "Tell all the geniuses to back off of hip-hop. Leave hip-hop alone."

Nida Khan is a hip-hop journalist working in both print and radio. She served as a staff writer for The Source Magazine in the past, and as a freelancer, she has contributed pieces to the Women's Media Center, Associated Press,, XXL Magazine, Rides Magazine, MTV News online, Scratch Magazine, DUB Magazine and The Ave Magazine to name a few.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Welcome to the Terrordome- Dave Zirin & Chuck D

Welcome to the Terrordome! It's a title that invokes images of rebellion, intellectual wordplay and raw lyrical energy. In today's criticism of Hip Hop, many forget that the culture has many times previously been embroiled in the turbulent atmosphere of race and politics that is America. But this was controversy of a different kind, that pitted an emcee named Chuck D and a group called Public Enemy against a "nation of millions," to be exact. This month Chuck D has teamed up to help promote a book by political sportswriter Dave Zirin named in his honor--Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics, and Promise of Sports. Author of What's My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States, and owner of the site Edge of Sports, Zirin describes his new work as "a look at how corporate interests have taken something beautiful -- sports -- and turned it into the 'athletic industrial complex' -- a sprawling, overly influential industry that has impacted all of our lives." And thanks to the power of YouTube, we can see excerpts of this duo's appearance, speaking on the state of sports, American politics, race, Hip Hop and more.

The title is a reference to the Louisiana Superdome, the homeless shelter of last resort in New Orleans: which was perhaps the most gruesome collision of the sports world and the real world that I have ever seen. It's also a song by Public Enemy (Chuck D writes the intro) a hip hop group that has proven to be prophetic in its view that popular culture was careening out of control. The book is not just about the "pain and politics" of sports, but the promise.

---Dave Zirin, ZNet Interview


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Melissa Harris-Lacewell on Hip Hop's Potential for Change

On May 11th Dr. Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Associate Professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton University, appeared on the award-winning Bill Moyers Journal on PBS. She shared her thoughts on a host of issues involving race and society in America, which inevitably led to Hip Hop. In a brief series of questions and exchanges, she discussed her thoughts on the Don Imus affair, Hip Hop as a scapegoat, Hip Hop criticism and the culture's inherent potential for creating change.

Bill Moyers Journal

May 11 2007

Interview with Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell

Excerpts from Transcript

Backdrop: Moyers and Harris-Lacewell are discussing the lack of space given to diverse voices in the news media to speak on issues of politics, and the change that needs to come in order to bring progressives, people of color, women and others into the mainstream.

BILL MOYERS: So, how do you expect change to come?

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Slowly and through pressure. So--

BILL MOYERS: But kids don't go out and protest the way they did in the '60s.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Oh, have you listened to hip-hop?

BILL MOYERS: Well, I've tried to, and I've had people try to explain it to me.


BILL MOYERS: But what do you mean? Why is hip-hop bringing this change?

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, I think that hip-hop has the insurgent possibilities and capabilities. Now there's a little bit of a problem with hip-hop, and that is it's a commodity that's bought and sold. And any time you're a commodity that's bought and sold, you-- have at least one aspect of your culture that can sort of go in a profit motivation.

But I will say that hip-hop music like Gospel music, like Blues music, like jazz music is the voice of a generation. And it has within it the insurgent capacity, the capacity to say, "Look, I'm not happy here, this is not enough, I expect more, I'm worthy of more." And over and over again in hip-hop from the mid-1970's until today, there's a strain of it that is saying that.

BILL MOYERS: But why do so many people say-- accurately it seems to me, reading the lyrics, that-- that hip-hop puts down women-- puts down the race, in fact. That it's a venomous language.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, there is a clear misogynist and sort of-- I would say aspect that is just about, you know, making money and commodifying women. But I will say that that came at a very specific moment, and it came at a moment in hip-hop when hip-hop went from being kind of a street-based, musical art form of urban, young people to a corporate entity, purchased mostly by white suburban boys who were interested in generating and consuming a particular form of blackness. But even as hip-hop went in that direction, there's a whole 'nother, very well articulated and well loved element of hip-hop which black urban youth continue to not only produce, but consume.

BILL MOYERS: The popular perception was that Imus was quoting hip-hop.

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: No, he wasn't. No, seriously, he really wasn't. I mean--

BILL MOYERS: when he referred to the basketball…

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Yeah, no, really, he wasn't. No. So there's a couple of reasons why Imus could not have been quoting hip-hop. First-- it wasn't as though hip-hop taught America how to degrade women or particularly how to degrade black women. America had figured that out long, long, long before hip-hop. Secondly, although hip-hop often uses the word "ho," it rarely ever calls someone a "nappy-headed ho." So we talked a lot about "ho." But we haven't talked much about "nappy-headed." And "nappy-headed" is a way of saying you, black woman, in your natural, physical state in, who you are -- are unacceptable, ugly, valueless. Now, that's not hip-hop.

Actually hip-hop tends to dress up black women in long, straight wigs, much more likely than it is to go to this place which is a very old place around, slavery, around Jim Crow that says, "Your physical self is an unacceptable, sort of orientation of blackness. I can see that you're black from across the room, and that's unacceptable to me."

Melissa Harris Lacewell is Associate Professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton University. She is the author of Barbershops, Bibles and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought and is currently working on an upcoming book titled For Colored Girls Who've Considered Politics When Being Strong Wasn't Enough.


Q&A- Cornel West on Politics, His New Album & Hip Hop

Professor Cornel West is a brilliant figure in numerous ways. Not only is the well known African-American philosopher ranked as one of America's foremost thinkers, and an academic member of the prestigious Ivy League, but he has an uncanny ability to step down from the ivory tower he's managed to climb and rub elbows--along with thoughts--with those outside those hallowed halls. In 2002 he was invited by Larry and Andy Wachowski, the writer-director team of the philosophical dystopian sci fi trilogy The Matrix, to appear in the sequels to the film. In 1999 he shocked fellow colleagues by releasing a spoken-word contemplative Hip Hop album titled Sketches of My Culture and a 2003 follow up with the edgy title Street Knowledge. This summer, coincidentally in the wake of the Imus scandal, Professor West is set to release yet another album titled Never Forget: A Journey of Revelations. Like past works, a who's who list of top Hip Hop artists--Talib Kweli, Rah Digga, KRS-One and Rhymefest to name a few--will make appearances throughout the album. Recently the Princeton professor sat down to discuss his views on politics, race, society and Hip Hop.

Q&A: Cornell West Takes "Journey" to Hip-Hop's Roots
By Gail Mitchell
May 11, 2007

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Talk about timing. Dr. Cornel West's upcoming album, "Never Forget: A Journey of Revelations," touches down at a time when renewed debate over hip-hop lyrics and video images is still swirling post-Don Imus. Add to that mix Verizon's recent termination of its ties with Akon over the singer's sexually suggestive dance onstage with a female minor during a recent concert.

Due in stores June 19, West's "Never Forget" will be the first release on Hidden Beach's new Hidden Beach Forum label. Tapping into R&B/hip-hop's historical role as a social force, the recording is the brainchild of Black Men Who Mean Business, an organization established by West, his brother Clifton and songwriter/producer Mike Dailey.

Prince, Talib Kweli, Andre 3000, KRS-One, Rhymefest, the late Gerald Levert and Killer Mike are among the R&B/hip-hop artists featured on the disc, which tackles such subjects as the events of September 11, 2001, racial profiling, the Bush administration and the n-word.

West's discography includes 2001's "Sketches of My Culture." The author of "Race Matters" and other books, West also has taught American and African-American studies at Harvard and Yale and helped develop the storyline for the "Matrix" movie trilogy. He is professor of religion at Princeton University.

Q: What is your take on the Don Imus-sparked hip-hop debate?

A: He was willing to say some very ugly things in order to be successful. But, as a Christian, I don't believe in hating anyone. I'm more concerned about being great in terms of serving others than being successful in terms of being on the top of some financial hierarchy.

Q: Is that hip-hop's dilemma: Its original message has become overridden by its financial gains?

A: The white brothers and sisters in the vanilla suburbs became the major consumers of this (commercial) hip-hop. And to sell well, you need a kind of vicarious living through black rebellion.

I'm not putting white brothers and sisters down. I just recognize it's going to be very hard for empathetic hip-hop artists to really sell because (consumers) tend to be more interested in some of the stereotypes, for example, male conquest of women and posturing at being bad. I think the industry pushed it to the margins, and some of these artists simply haven't been courageous enough to engage in truth-telling.

Q: Do you agree with the movement to clean up rap lyrics?

A: Some of these brothers deserve some serious criticism because misogyny is real. A woman's dignity, integrity and humanity need to be affirmed. But this just can't be a displacement of Don Imus for Snoop Dogg.

If you really want to reach Snoop Dogg and other rappers, you've got to make them understand that you are part of a community that they're a part of. You can criticize the ugliness and vulgarity of the Imus situation. But from there you say, "Brother, you know your mother has dignity, so when you're talking about these other sisters you can't be including all black women. Recognize that those sisters are somebody's mother, too."

That kind of criticism ends up being more effective. The only way you are going to be successful is if you engage these rappers from the inside. You don't throw rocks from the outside.

Q: What was the impetus behind your new album?

A: It isn't a commentary on hip-hop. And I'm not coming in as a hip-hop scholar or critic. This is an attempt to go back to hip-hop's prophetic roots, which are about truth-telling, exposing lies and having fun. It's what I call a danceable education or a singing paideia, the Greek word for deep education. If there is one person whose spirit I try to embody on this CD, it's Curtis Mayfield. His music is about love and freedom and really informs.

This is a very political album that doesn't pull any punches. There are critiques of the Bush administration as well as of unaccountable corporate power, unaccountable police power and homophobia. We're trying to get young people to wake up and recognize they're part of a great tradition of struggle, to become organized and fight for freedom and justice.

Q: Do you listen to contemporary R&B and hip-hop?

A: I am unabashedly of the Motown, Philly Sound, Mayfield generation, so I am not fooling myself. I just love young people enough to be a part of their artistic process and try to bring in some of the older generation's insights. But I'm also open to young folks' insights because I've got to learn, too.

I've never met Lupe Fiasco, but I like that brother. Oh, lord, he's a free, young brother who honestly speaks his mind. That brother hits American terrorism, the American empire and still talks about his skateboard. I love that kind of freedom because, in the end, we've all got to be ourselves and that takes courage.

Q: Do you think the downturn in hip-hop sales reflects consumer dissatisfaction?

A: It's important to keep in mind that a decline in sales doesn't mean a decline in popularity. Hip-hop is here to stay. The question is what kind. What we're trying to say with this album is we need a rebirth of hip-hop. When it becomes hip to be in hip-hop connected to the struggle for freedom and justice, then that popularity will have a positive impact on the larger society.

In fact, myself and community activist Jeffrey Canada of Harlem's the Children's Zone (who was interviewed on the recent "Don't Snitch" segment on "60 Minutes") met with Jay-Z about 18 months ago and talked about these issues. We had a wonderful dialogue with Jay-Z, and he was very receptive.

Q: So, what's next for hip-hop?

A: 50 Cent may be another Malcolm X and turn out to be a serious progressive. You just don't know. That's why I'm not giving up on him, the Game and other rappers. I'm just trying to respectfully challenge them and make them accountable.


Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Hip-Hop's E-Z Scapegoats

Hip-Hop's E-Z Scapegoats
By Dave Zirin & Jeff Chang

JEFF CHANG is the editor of "Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop." DAVE ZIRIN is the author of the forthcoming "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports."

MUCH OF THE criticism of commercial rap music — that it's homophobic and sexist and celebrates violence — is well-founded. But most of the carping we've heard against hip-hop in the wake of the Don Imus affair is more scapegoating than serious. Who is being challenged here? It's not the media oligarchs, which twist an art form into an orgy of materialism, violence and misogyny by spending millions to sign a few artists willing to spout cartoon violence on command. Rather, it's a small number of black artists — Snoop Dogg, Ludacris and 50 Cent, to name some — who are paid large amounts to perpetuate some of America's oldest racial and sexual stereotypes. But none of the critics who accuse hip-hop of single-handedly coarsening the culture think to speak with members of the hip-hop generation, who are supposedly both targets and victims of the rap culture. They might be surprised at what this generation is saying.

Hip-Hop's E-Z Scapegoats

[posted online on May 8, 2007]

Following Don Imus's rabid rant, a number of pundits and politicians have apparently decided on a consensus culprit to cleanse the national soul: hip-hop. Somehow, an aging cowboy-hatted shock jock has become a symbol for all that is wrong with an art form dominated and shaped by young people of color.

The idea that the black community in general and hip-hop in particular are to blame for Imus's rant is gaining currency across the political spectrum. From Oprah to Obama, the "teachable moment" on Imus has become a public meditation on racism and sexism not by whites in the media but by blacks. The anti-hip-hop furies fly far beyond the usual right-wing suspects. Even the great Bob Herbert of the New York Times compared Snoop Dogg with Imus and Michael Savage. And in the Los Angeles Times, civil rights attorney Constance Rice excused Imus as a "good-natured racist," guilty only of mimicking "the original gurus of black female denigration: black men with no class"--in other words, rappers.

Ironically, this was Imus's defense on the Today show, where he said, "I may be a white man, but I know that...young black women all through that society are demeaned and disparaged and disrespected by their own black men and that they are called that name."

Joan Walsh of Salon took issue with that argument: "I hate the misogyny of some rap music--it's not all misogynistic--but rappers didn't invent sick notions of black women as sexual objects in America; those ideas have an old, old history here, going back to the days when the chains black men wore weren't bling.... In my opinion, hundreds of years of the racist misogyny of white men like Imus and [Imus producer Bernard] McGuirk are far more responsible for misogynistic rap music than the reverse. And as I type this I'm thinking, is that even up for debate? Fellas, please."

But Walsh has been a lonely voice. There are questions we need to ask: Was CBS President and CEO Les Moonves concerned about "young women of color trying to make their way in this society" when he was co-president of Viacom and able to help shape programming on MTV and BET? Is Snoop Dogg's rap really equivalent to Michael Savage's rap, who has said that the Voting Rights Act put "a chad in every crackhouse"?

The current national monologue about demeaning language and imagery is an exercise in scapegoating. What's being challenged here? Not the media monopolies that twist the proud art form built by artists like Public Enemy, Rakim and The Roots into an orgy of materialism, violence and misogyny. Not the CEOs who aggressively market demeaning music. Not the radio stations that play the same sexist drivel. They are the ones who need to be held to account.

As Byron Hurt, creator of the PBS documentary Beyond Beats and Rhymes, told Women's e-News, "Hip-hop has always been hyper-aggressive, homophobic and sexist, but there was more diversity before. In mainstream hip-hop right now there's a more narrow vision of masculinity and manhood than in 1989, when hip-hop wasn't mainstream."

None of the critics who accuse hip-hop of coarsening the culture think to speak with members of the hip-hop generation, who are regarded as both targets and victims of the rap culture. And if they actually stopped to listen to the hip-hop generation they purport to be saving, they might be surprised at what they hear.

The critics might engage hip-hop feminists like Joan Morgan (When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost), fighting sexism from the inside of the art form.

They might attend conferences like the April 2005 "Feminism and Hip Hop" summit at the University of Chicago. Or maybe they would want to check out the annual "B-Girl Be Summit: A Celebration of Women in Hip Hop" in Minneapolis.

They might view short documentaries like Tamika Guishard's Hip Hop Gurlz or Rebecca Raimist's Nobody Knows My Name or Aishah Simmons's film about rape, called simply No.

If the anti-hip-hop crusaders really cared about the generation they want to save, they would support the Youth Media Council and the Media Justice Movement and their outspoken advocates like Malkia Cyril, Moya Bailey and Rosa Clemente.

Most of all, they might learn from young people who are even more put off by the sexist commercial rap shoved in their faces than anyone else.

The gap between what is on Viacom's MTV and BET and what young people really want has never been bigger. According to a study released in January by the Black Youth Project, run by researchers at the University of Chicago, 57 percent of all young people--including 66 percent of black women--believe rap videos portray black women negatively. "While music sales are down across the board, hip hop sales have plunged, which might be attributed to both the cookie-cutter nature of corporate rap as well as the monotonously offensive sexism and violence.

To confuse the commercial rap made by a few artists and promoted by the media monopolies with how hip-hop is actually lived by millions is to miss the crucial good that hip-hop does. There are now more than 300 hip-hop classes being taught at colleges and universities. Hip-hop after-school programs, voter registration groups, feminist gatherings and public forums are just some of the places where the future of real hip-hop is being discussed all around the world, beyond the commercial interest of corporations and the rhetorical interest of many pundits and leaders. This is hip-hop that tries not only to recall the tradition of political artists like Public Enemy but also expand on the art form.

If anti-hip-hop crusaders paid attention to the hip-hop generation, they might find that the discussion has already begun without them. They might also be reminded that you don't heal a people by crushing their spirit; you do it by taking care of it. That's something the best leaders of the civil rights movement understood, and it's a thought that could serve us well now.


Jeff Chang is editor of Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop and author of Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation.

Dave Zirin is the author "What's My Name, Fool?" Sports and Resistance in the United States (Haymarket Books). Forthcoming books include The Muhammad Ali Handbook (MQ Publications) and "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics, and Promise of Sports (Haymarket Books


Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Fairness Doctrine for Hip Hop

Hip Hop. Today there's a definite feel that the culture is under seige. In wake of the Don Imus controversy, Hip Hop has been left holding the proverbial bag. But long before the racist rants of former alcohlic shock jocks, Hip Hop has been debating within itself. The call for reform in both content, art and image has been made by activists inside the culture, who challenge not only artists but the powerful corporate industry that manipulates, controls, promotes and profit from them. The idea of "Fairness" often permeates these discussions, and so is the theme of this blog, and this post.

A Fairness Doctrine for Hip Hop
A Modest Plan to Save Our Culture

There is an on-going discussion on the state of Hip Hop throughout America, and perhaps beyond. From large broadcast media to print journalism to online message boards, it is a hot topic. There are closed-door sessions with “rap moguls” being held; and civil rights groups are set to announce planned movements. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the issue. A few even go further, and offer solutions. As a member of the loosely defined “Hip Hop Generation,” who was not there for its earliest days but lived through many of the formative years, including the now nostalgic “Golden Age,” I suppose like everyone else I have a right—perhaps a responsibility—to offer my own thoughts.

The problem with past “outsider” attempts at addressing issues of sex and violence in Hip Hop is that they were often carried out as “scorched Earth” policies. “Wars on gangsta rap” usually came across as “Wars on Hip Hop.” Little attempt was made to differentiate between the many sub-genres of the culture, which span the ideological and artistic spectrum. Emcees were “culturally profiled” under one disparaging umbrella. And elements of Hip Hop that are almost divorced from emceeing, much less “gangsta rap,”—scratch DJs, breakdancers, graffiti artists—found themselves having to make explanations for artists and lyrics to which they bear no direct responsibility. Scant attention is paid to the fact that activists within the culture have long sought reform and perhaps should be consulted before these larger “movements” begin. There is a natural suspicion among the Hip Hop community about such "movements" when the only time the media—including the black afrostocracy and punditocracy—places a spotlight on the culture, is to connect it with crime, deviant behavior or the wayward racist rants of former alcoholic shock jocks. After all, this criticism of Hip Hop isn’t new. When “gangsta rap” wasn’t the culprit, it was political rap—that was “too black” or “too threatening.” Before that it was the clothing—“too baggy, too colorful, too flamboyant.” Or it’s the hairstyles. Or it’s the dancing. Or it lacks intellectualism. Or the beats are too simple. Or the music isn’t “really” music. The list can go on, most of it trivial, much of it distorted or one-dimensional and some of it outright false. Since its inception Hip Hop has existed somewhere between the excitedly exotic (a world of entertaining blacks and Latins) and dangerously ominous for mainstream cultural and social critics. It exists under a near continuous state of “siege,” with a never-ending and never-satisfied corps of detractors. I think perhaps, there is another way.

What follows is a modest idea. I call it modest with a touch of sarcasm, because while it is simple in its general layout, it is ambitious in scale. The idea cannot be called new or unique or groundbreaking. To paraphrase Chuck D, “it’s a thought that’s been thought before.” In fact, it is gleaned from long established movements, writings on topics relating to Hip Hop, documentaries and more, including the following: ESSENCE Magazine’s Take Back the Music Campaign; the youth movement Black Girls Rock; the activist film Turn Off Channel Zero Campaign; Byron Hurt’s documentary Beyond Beats and Rhymes; the well-established activist e-zine and valued online Hip Hop source, the powerful musings of Chuck D and many more. I only restate these thoughts because there seems to be momentum at present. And I think those within Hip Hop should be out in front leading, not being told where to go and what to do. The idea is not without its imperfections, some of which I explore. Neither is the idea thoroughly written out in detail on the scale of a social manifesto, a social movement or legally binding contract. Nor is it some stroke of genius. Rather it’s a pragmatic suggestion for a way to move forward, beyond the “blame Hip Hop first” crowd, and the “we have to defend our culture” siege-mentality these ceaseless attacks induce. The idea itself consists of three basic elements under one heading:

A Fairness Doctrine for Hip Hop

Element 1: Fairness and equity regarding adult entertainment. A rule should be implemented requiring that sexually explicit, graphically violent or other adult-themed Hip Hop not be marketed as the mainstream face of the culture. Hip Hop that engages in gratuitous imagery, excessive profanity and contains adult content intended for a mature audience should either (a) be limited to prime time or after hours radio and television or (b) be restricted to select cable channels that do not cater to mainstream entertainment. This is nothing different than what is already in place for other genres of music, television shows or movies. On MTV, so-called “Death Metal” was long relegated mostly to late night. On television, more adult-themed crime dramas appear during prime time; the more explicit or graphic (i.e., The Sopranos or Deadwood) exist on premium cable channels and are shown primarily at night. Movies receive ratings that are directly tied to their level of adult content. Imagine if the media industry pushed violent shows like HBOs ROME, and sexually explicit movies that now appear on late night Cinemax, as the everyday face of morning, daytime and early evening mainstream television. This would distort the image of mainstream programming. Yet this is precisely what happens with Hip Hop, as the corporate industry pushes one face—filled with sex and violence—as the mainstream norm of the music. By not requiring the same rules be followed with regards to Hip Hop, the media industry is allowed to distort the image of the entire culture, pushing black sex and violence for profit.

Element 2: Fairness and equity that displays Hip Hop’s diversity. A rule should be implemented requiring that the full diversity of Hip Hop—in topics, styles and gender—be given equal radio and television airplay. Driven by profit rather than art, the media industry pushes financially viable themes of sex and violence that conform to widely held stereotypes. This creates the impression that Hip Hop has no other face other than the one that is marketed. There is undoubtedly different music out there. A glance at online sites for “Underground” Hip Hop or Indie Hip Hop, or even cable channels like VH1-Soul, offer another world of black cultural expression. Yet much of this is put under the heading of “alternative,” while “thug” rap is marketed near singly as the universal black norm. We need to demand that broadcasters and the music industry allow for a diversity of voices and imagery on a level of fairness and equity given to other genres of entertainment.

Element 3: Fairness and equity in media depictions and coverage of Hip Hop. More voices need to demand that the mainstream media portray a more encompassing image of Hip Hop. In mainstream journalism Hip Hop is portrayed overwhelmingly as negative, usually covered during an incidence of crime or altercation with law enforcement. In television shows or movies, this association of Hip Hop with criminal activity is near constant, along with themes of gang-relatedness, anti-intellectualism and other socially "deviant" depictions. By focusing on one image of Hip Hop, notably lyrics which indulge in graphic violence and gratuitous sex, the various media outlets defame a global culture and contribute to misconceptions of Hip Hop. Furthermore, this allows for Hip Hop to be used unfairly as a scapegoat for numerous incidents, and perpetuates racial and cultural bias. Hip Hop should be afforded balanced coverage, highlighting everything from charity events to activism, as is received by other genres of entertainment.

There. That’s it. That’s the idea. It’s that simple. Of course it needs more than this. Because regardless of how simple it looks on the surface, it has far-reaching implications. But all those by-laws and contracts are things for lawyers, and activists and people who think like lawyers to hash out. I’m just making a suggestion. If you like the idea as is, that’s great. Pass it on. Most of all visit the links below and Get Involved! If you hate the plan or think it’s nonsensical, please share why in a constructive format. If you like the plan, want to know why I came up with it, have concerns or issues regarding its plausibility or the like, see the following related essays where I try to explain matters more in depth. I especially suggest Thoughts and Concerns Regarding an Imperfect Plan before you make up your mind either way.

The Essays, in any particular order, are:

Sex, Guns & Violence: Why Hip Hop is All-American
Sex and violence are often cited in rap lyrics. But while these are themes in Hip Hop, they don’t speak for the totality of the culture. Furthermore, to single out sex and violence in rap lyrics is hypocritical—when sex and violence pervade much of American culture. From old blues lyrics to rock and roll, from movies to militarism, America is a society where guns, masculinity and sexuality are glorified. This essay posits that graphic sex and violence in rap lyrics might be hyper-normal, for mainstream culture, but it’s not abnormal.

Their Eyes Were Watching Smut: Turning Pornography into Black Culture
When I was younger I watched the sitcom Sanford and Son. I had no idea that its start, Red Foxx, had an entirely different persona—one in which he performed raunchy and explicit comedy. What he was doing in nightclubs after all was adult humor for a mature audience, not the sort of thing you’d hear on daytime and mainstream television. Today we have the inverse. So why is pornography being marketed as black culture? And who’s ultimately responsible?

Thug Life, Right-Wing News and the Iraq War: How Big Media Manufactures Consent
With the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 under the Reagan administration, the way for media consolidation was opened up for broadcasters to control both the airwaves and the content on them. This resulted in an explosion of right-wing radio and the birth of conservative propaganda television like FOX News, changing the landscape of journalism and manufacturing consent in the American public. The same dynamics that left a crisis in the state of the news media have done much the same to Hip Hop, with an eerily striking similarity.

Thoughts and Concerns Regarding an Imperfect Plan
What follows are issues and questions that may arise in trying to implement anything approaching a Fairness Doctrine in Hip Hop. It’s meant to answer some immediate misconceptions or concerns about such a plan, why I think attempts to “ban” sex and violence in Hip Hop are ultimately limited, as well as some inherent dangers any attempts at reform might present if wrongly applied. Further suggestions and criticisms are certainly welcome.

The Martyrdom of Don Imus
The most recent controversy over Hip Hop erupted when shock jock Don Imus made derogatory comments towards the nearly all-black Rutgers basketball team. But did Don Imus really die for our black sins? Or is this alleged “martyrdom” nothing more than another white apologist stance for sexism and racism in America?

Get Involved!
Long before I added my two cents to this issue, there were artists and activists—from politicians to organizations to filmmakers and more—who have long waged a battle for both the soul of Hip Hop and against negative depictions of blacks in media. If you care about Hip Hop, Get Involved!

Black Girls Rock!

Blackout Arts Collective

Essence Take Back the Music Campaign

H2Ed- Hip Hop 2 Education

Hip Hop Violence- Summit 07

Kick G.A.M.E.

Save Internet Radio!


Urban Word NYC

World Up- The Global Hip-Hop Project

If you could care less about the plan, or this page, and this has been a colossal waste of your time, my bad. There’s nothing I can do to monetarily compensate you for your loss, but perhaps these irreverent but funny video clips might help: Wrong Sounding Muppets and Let the Bodies Hit the Floor.


Thoughts & Concerns Regarding a Fairness Doctrine 4 Hip Hop

What follows are issues and questions that may arise in trying to implement anything approaching a Fairness Doctrine in Hip Hop. It’s meant to answer some immediate misconceptions or concerns about such tactics, why I think attempts to “ban” sex and violence in Hip Hop are limited in their approach, as well as some inherent dangers attempts at reform might present if wrongly applied. Further suggestions and criticisms are certainly welcome.

Thoughts and Concerns Regarding an Imperfect Plan

Are You Saying We Should Ban Explicit or Violent Rap Music?
Don’t Artists and the Industry Just Give People What They Want?
Can’t We Just Stop Purchasing Hip Hop With Negative Lyrics?
Why Not Just Ask Artists to Change?
Is This Asking For More Socially Conscious Hip Hop?
What About Hip Hop That Portrays Flashy Materialism?
What About So-Called “Minstrel Rap”?
Will Fairness Stop Sexism and Violence in the Black Community?
Will Fairness Stop Negative and Stereotyped Depictions of Blacks in Media?
Will Fairness Stop Adult Themed Hip Hop From Reaching Younger Listeners and Viewers?
Is This Just Going After Artists You Don’t Like?
Will Hip Hop Still Be Street?
Doesn’t This Pose a Danger to Hip Hop?
What Could a Fairness Doctrine Do For Hip Hop?
How Fairness Can Help Fight Sexism in Hip Hop—By Empowering More Female Emcees.
Why Now?

Are You Saying We Should Ban Explicit or Violent Rap Music?

No. Fairness does not call for the banning of lyrics or videos with sexual or violent content. That would be hypocritical and unfair, as there are television shows, movies, books and more that all have adult content. Furthermore, there is obviously an audience for it—by most accounts, primarily white males—and no one has a right to stop anyone from engaging in this form of entertainment, or deny artists their right to perform this type of music. Besides, there’s powerful insight even in songs as profanity laced as 2Pac’s “F*ck the World” or Notorious BIG’s misogynist “Me and My B*tch.” Those songs should not be banned anymore than one would call for the banning of the late Richard Pryor’s raunchy comedy or HBO’s violent series ROME. What Fairness does ask for is that we define adult content as just that, and not make it representative of mainstream black culture. This is not a call for Hip Hop to receive special treatment; it is a call for Hip Hop to receive equal treatment. If The Sopranos or Deadwood is considered adult themed and best suited for prime time mature audiences, Hip Hop with similar content should be as well. Right now we have just the opposite rules in place that determine the mainstream face of black culture should be sexually explicit or graphically violent. Any other form of black cultural expression is deemed “alternative.” Ironically, in this way there is already censorship that operates in reverse—limiting the freedom of expression of black culture in all its diversity. This double standard needs to be challenged as forcefully as segregation, as it is similarly a form of unequal treatment whose source is directly tied to racial inequality.

Don’t Artists and the Industry Just Give People What They Want?

This was my personal stance for years, fully believing that Hip Hop would change when people demanded differently. Mos Def said as much on his first album, Black on Both Sides—“Hip Hop is goin’ where we goin.” However after all this time, nothing has changed. In fact, Hip Hop’s mainstream face has become more one-dimensional. What I came to realize, what had long been said by others, was that the appetite for sexual and violent Hip Hop was not merely the work of natural market forces. By limiting the choice of what is played on the radio or on the television, media distributors and broadcasters offer a narrowly circumscribed choice—where sex and violence wrapped in blackface dominate and there is little “alternative” to turn to. In this way Hip Hop may go where the people are going, but the people themselves are pushed and prodded where the industry wants them to go, or expects them to go, by simply limiting the options they are able to make. When these limited choices become normalized a demand is thus created for the industry to fill and make profit. Or as Mos Def cries out in warning on his second album, The New Danger, in a stark divergence from his earlier assertions—“Old white men is runnin’ this rap sh*t! Corporate forces runnin’ this rap sh*t!” In How the Media Manufacturers Consent, the attempt is made to illustrate how the corporate control of journalism is a fitting analogy. The same profit-driven dynamics that restrict and limit the scope of the news media do much the same in Hip Hop. Grassroots activism is pushing and challenging the news media for change and diversity. We should support activism that demands a similar push for change in Hip Hop, affording a wider range of entertainment and depictions from which to choose.

Can’t We Just Stop Purchasing Hip Hop With Negative Lyrics?

Yes of course. Many activists and campaigns advocate this position. But this tactic has its limits. For one, no one should have to search alternative online forums or literally “underground” locations to find Hip Hop that is not sexually or violently explicit. Hip Hop deserves the right to be provided for in just as diverse a fashion as Rock N’ Roll. In no other form of popular music other than Hip Hop is the pornographic or graphically violent pushed so heavily as the “singular” norm, while anything with an opposing theme is deemed “alternative.” The reasons for this are directly tied to racism and expectations of what mainstream black culture is “supposed” to entail. There has to be a time when we stop accepting this second-class treatment as normal. Second, with the power to manufacture consent simply through the limiting of options, it is difficult to get consumers to shift their buying habits when they accept what is marketed to them as the norm. Only by forcing a diversification of the options available to consumers—especially what is marketed as mainstream—will we bring a change in purchasing habits. And third, if statistics are anything to go on, the main consumers of Hip Hop today are white males—accounting for 60% or more of the sales that fuel the industry. If we are to wait for white males to decide they do not want to consume stereotyped images of blacks, chances are high we’ll be waiting for a long time.

Why Not Just Ask Artists to Change?

We can, we do and we should. It’s certainly possible to get some converts. Many artists after all—despite the personas they push in their music—are parents, have sisters, brothers and family. We expect they at the least all have mothers. Yet artists have pledged to change before, as has the industry, only to return to explicit lyrics. The reasons are near always a question of money. If their personal accounts are to be believed, some Hip Hop artists simply perform music they think will sell albums. In this sense they are little different from other black entertainers, dating back at least to Vaudeville, who did what they saw as necessary to turn a profit. Now, as then, the primary audience they catered to was white, and whites dominated the control of the entertainment world in which they existed. Now, as then, performing roles that were stereotypical and catered to their white audience was much more lucrative than not. It may not sound pretty, but people with limited options often play into their exploitation. Take pornography. In America it is a multi-billion industry consumed mostly by white males. The women in the film are mostly white and are degraded in ways that aren’t comparable to even the most sexist Hip Hop. That these women participate in their own exploitation may be disturbing, but hardly surprising as their reasons are primarily for financial gain, limited options, coerced participation and at times a history of hardship and abuse. Given America’s racial history, why is anyone surprised that black males would similarly engage in their own exploitation for profit? Asking artists to change without calling for the industry to diversify what will be marketed as financially viable music is unrealistic.

Is This Asking For More Socially Conscious Hip Hop?

That would be good. Politics will undoubtedly remain in Hip Hop, as it has been there—in one form or the other—since its earliest days. But this plan is not intended to turn every artist into a “revolutionary.” A space for that kind of Hip Hop to re-enter the popular mainstream would be made by a Fairness Doctrine, but it is not a requirement. Hip Hop can be diverse and mainstream without explicit lyricism. It can talk about life, it can brag, it can glorify the bad boy/bad girl, it can push capitalism or socialism. Even aspects of sexuality and violence can be talked about without taking it to graphic extremes. The idea of Fairness is not intended to create some “Pollyanna” type of Hip Hop divorced from reality. What Fairness asks for more than anything else, is balance.

What About Hip Hop That Portrays Flashy Materialism?

A Fairness Doctrine is not a manifesto on socialism or anti-globalization. If “pimped out” rides and iced out grills is what artists want to portray, let them. If they want to “make it rain” $20s, $50s or $100s and deck out their necks in enough jewelry to equal the GNP of a small nation, they have a right to do so. There will still be critics who tire of songs devoted to whips, chips and chains that hang low—for the record, I am one of them—and they should continue to voice their concerns. But crass materialism is not the same as adult themed graphic violence or the gratuitous use of women’s bodies for sexual imagery—not unless we’re talking about videos that show off “pimp cups” or, worse, real-live “pimps.” And there are some songs, like Kanye West’s “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” which occupy an illuminating middle ground. Besides, this is where the Fairness Doctrine comes in. Dispersed between songs and imagery that glorify materialism, there need to be different and even countering viewpoints.

What About So-Called “Minstrel Rap”?

There has been recent concern that some Hip Hop videos and songs are too reminiscent of old minstrel acts, where comical dances are the main point of the song. Admittedly, some of the similarities are disturbing, as an editorial in XXL examines. While these concerns deserve discussion, there is also the fact that dance is a key element of Hip Hop. Like Afrika Bambatta said, along with peace, love and unity, Hip Hop is supposed to be about having fun. If artists want to “walk it out” or “chicken noodle soup,” or “get hyphy,” I can’t give any concrete reasons why such things should be banned. After all, I grew up in an era of dances that made no more sense—the Smurf, the Prep, the Running Man and, during my time in the South, a host of dances made famous by the New Orleans DJ Jubilee. The influences on Hip Hop dance range from soul and funk to dancehall and salsa. And like the documentary Rize showed, these forms of physical movement in the black community are part of a long rooted cultural tradition that can have deeply important social meaning. Yes, there should be some line of demarcation between the sexually suggestive, which is a normal, healthy part of black dance, and the non-stop “stripper dancing” that has taken hold in some videos. And given the common stereotypes that plague images of black bodies and dance, the concerns are worthy of debate. But this is where the Fairness Doctrine once again comes in, allowing for alternative depictions that expose the breadth of black culture—including the many variations of black dance.

Will This Stop Sexism and Violence in the Black Community?

The short answer—No. The long answer is more complex. Sexism and violence are part of American culture, as pointed out in Why Hip Hop is All-American. Removing explicit sex and graphic violence from the mainstream of Hip Hop culture will not take it out of the black community any more than relegating Howard Stern and Al Pacino films to adult audiences has made America as a whole less so. The oft-discussed problems that plague the black community have their roots in a continued legacy of structural inequality tied to race, gender and class and involve a host of factors which lie far outside the realm, influence and power of Hip Hop. “Gangsta” or “thug” rap are symptoms and reflections of larger American problems, not the cause.

Will This Stop Negative and Stereotyped Depictions of Blacks in Media?

The short answer again, unfortunately, is no. Negative and stereotyped depictions of blacks have a long history in American media as key tools in racism. To justify oppressive and discriminatory behavior, blacks were recast as the “other”—people not altogether human and easily defined by expected behavior, most of it comical, taboo, dangerous or deviant. Such stereotypes were created through exaggeration or outright falsehood and then pushed as the norm, serving as justifications for discrimination. By painting black women as sexually rapacious Jezebels, white slave owners justified rape. By painting black men as dangerous brutes prone to rape, white mobs justified lynching. Minstrels, Sambo images, violent criminals and a host of stereotypes were—and are still—necessary to sustain the institution of white racism and privilege. Rappers did not create these stereotypes, even if some may seem to play into them—which is not surprising as black America has long attempted to resist white stereotypes by at times adopting them, an exercise that is both empowering and destructive. The very expectation that gratuitous sex and violence should be the face of mainstream black America is itself based on old stereotypes. And by presenting one-dimensional images rather than diversity, the industry creates a feedback cycle from which they can profit, and shock jocks like Don Imus can use to justify their own racism. Worse still, the victims of these stereotypes may find themselves conforming to and accepting them as the norm.

Will This Stop Adult Themed Hip Hop From Reaching Younger Listeners and Viewers?

Of course not. When I was younger, my adolescent male cohorts and I still got a hold of copies of Playboy or Penthouse—despite the fact that none of our parents owned it in their homes and we were forbidden from purchasing it. Going after what is taboo is a normal part of childhood—especially when the same taboos of extreme sexuality and violence pervade the society in more subtle ways. And, given the many varied ways one can access media today, it is inevitable that youth will find their way to sexually explicit and graphically violent music—much as they can find pornography online. However they should have to go through all the hoops I had to in order to get it. And by taking it out of popular culture, they should learn like I did the difference between mature entertainment and mainstream culture.

Isn't This Just Going After Artists You Don’t Like?

No. A Fairness Doctrine does not want to “go after anyone,” except a biased media industry. On a personal level, while a lot of “thug” and sex rap is admittedly not on my top 10, I listen to Hip Hop that contains adult themes. From Bootcamp to Wu Tang to Jean Grae, some of my favorite artists engage in lyrics with sexual content, a great deal of profanity, violent depictions, allusions to criminality and other adult themes. So do some of my favorite television shows and movies. I’m a product of American culture after all, like everyone else. Holding rap artists to a standard not required by directors and novelists or actors is to expect they are somehow super-human. No cultural critic can tell me that Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is not art; if so, neither is Al Pacino's Scarface. But I also know this entertainment contains adult themes and should have its proper place. At the same time, not all adult-themed music is the same. Some of it is not gratuitous but is trying to make relevant social commentary, even if the topic is for mature audiences. Thus the Fairness Doctrine should apply equally even here, allowing a diversity of artists within the sphere of music with adult content. It should also be noted that individual artists themselves create music that spans the spectrum. Ludacris’ societal commentary “Runaway Love” or even his bombastic “Stand Up!” are far removed from the sex-filled “P*ssy Poppin.” There are artists that are no more one-dimensional in their music than actors may be in their roles. They should be afforded the right to explore and portray all those aspects, if they so choose. But not all of it deserves mainstream airplay.

Will Hip Hop Still Be Street?

Hip Hop was “street” long before “gangsta” or “thug” rap came about. While that is a form of lyricism that portrays the “street life,” it’s not the only way to do so. There are many topics—from crime to sex—that can be discussed without reverting to gratuity. That’s why they call it “art.” Furthermore, we buy into common stereotypes of the poor if we assume that everyone on the streets or is poverty-stricken lives a life of high crime and sex. There are stories of struggle, hard work, resistance, love, life and more to be found in those same streets. Allow them to be told as well.

Doesn’t This Pose a Danger to Hip Hop?

Admittedly, yes. And the risk revolves around censorship. There is the chance that any attempt to push for “decent” lyrics for the Hip Hop mainstream could be used to attack Hip Hop in the main. Music containing overtly political themes could be deemed as adult content or others promoting topics the mainstream finds uncomfortable (i.e., atheism, homosexuality, anti-Americanism, etc.) could be unfairly placed outside what is considered “acceptable.” That is a real danger. And we enter a slippery slope here. The only thing to counter it will be vigilance, so that good intentions are not exploited to push a particular political agenda. This plan after all is not an attempt to rid Hip Hop of its rebelliousness, of its ability to shock and push back against the mainstream culture—even while it is part of that culture. This was in part what “gangsta” rap was supposed to do. Today however, it has become more symbolic of subservience to media control than anything advocating real rebellion. Furthermore, as previously pointed out, censorship in Hip Hop music already exists—just in reverse.

What Could a Fairness Doctrine Do For Hip Hop?

For one, it can change the face of what is expected from Hip Hop. It is very annoying to hear detractors of Hip Hop speak of it in one-dimensional terms. They aren’t aware that artists like Mos Def can make environmental songs like New World Water or that Hip Hop has a radical Marxist perspective presented by Boots Riley of The Coup. Yes, Hip Hop is dance, crime dramas and sex—but it’s also a lot more. Once in a while this diversity reaches a mainstream audience, as when Outkast won big at the 2004 Grammy Awards or when Time magazine named The Roots Things Fall Apart as the 2nd best album of 1999. But too often Hip Hop’s diverse face is buried beneath a pile of bling and thug fantasy make-up. Don’t get me wrong. I do not think by displaying the diversity of Hip Hop we will immediately stop its negative portrayal. Many will zero in on thug rap for the simple sake of vilifying the whole culture, even if it is relegated to adult prime time or a separate adult channel. But at the least, our defense of our culture will be more sound, when sexually explicit or graphically violent lyricism is no longer presented as the singular mainstream image of Hip Hop—any more than pornography or mafioso films are portrayed as the singular mainstream face of white America. Furthermore, the very art of Hip Hop can receive a jolt of creativity. When I watched Byron Hurt interview aspiring rap artists at BET’s Spring Bling for his documentary Beyond Beats and Rhymes, I noticed two things. One, they all spit rhymes about the same thing—gunplay, animosity, drug dealing, killing, etc. From their young fresh faces that seemed plucked from middleclass America, I doubted any of them had ever done one ounce of the things they talked about. Otherwise, to quote Mr. Fantastik on MF Doom’s “Rapp Snitch Knishes,” they’d be the biggest—“Rap snitches/ Telling all their business/ Sit in the court and be their own star witness.” Rather it seemed none of them were told—or believed—they could rhyme about anything different. The second thing I noticed—most were incredibly WACK! I mean terrible. Biggie, Snoop, Ghostface—all can tell a crime drama on par with Martin Scorsese. These kids had none of that artistic quality. Instead of creative freestyle battles filled with similes and metaphors, there were simple physical threats and bombasts. If this is the bar to which emceeing has been lowered, an entire generation of creative lyricism might be lost. On the Buckshot and 9th Wonder collaboration, Chemistry, the title of the album is defined thusly: “Chemistry is like…a whole lot of different mixtures brought to the table…. can’t have all of the same ingredients going into that or you’ll have a big container of the same sh*t.” Nuff said. Diversity or Chemistry—call it what you want—Hip Hop can only be made the better for it.

How Fairness Can Help Fight Sexism in Hip Hop—By Empowering More Female Emcees.

With all the cries against sexism in Hip Hop, one of the glaring yet overlooked aspects of sexual discrimination is the mere lack of female emcees that get mainstream airplay. Most of those that are heard fit a “type” that is heavily restricted to pushing some element of sexuality. And while there may be something to the argument that these female emcees use sexuality as a type of feminist empowerment—or so goes the mantra in critic-speak—the fact that many are not given the choice to do otherwise, and that we rarely hear from them, says a great deal on the inherent bias against women in the industry. Worse still, this lack of diversity may be destroying the very existence of women in Hip Hop lyricism. Essence Magazine’s Take Back the Music Campaign reported that in 2006 there were so few female emcees consistently putting out music that the Grammy Awards discontinued the Female Rap Artist category. The female rap duo or group has all but disappeared from radio or videos. The reasons for this may have much to do with an industry that overlooks female talent, and a one-dimensional market whose penchant for misogynist lyricism turns off would-be female artists. Ashlee West-Nesbitt documents some of this in her online editorial, Death of the Female Rapper. Yet Hip Hop is sold and marketed to women en masse. Women occupy powerful positions behind the scenes in Hip Hop—from marketing to journalism. That this same constituency finds itself underrepresented in numbers and diversity is both tragic and embarrassing. Writer Jason Fleurant wrote that what Hip Hop needs is a “FeMC Messiah,” to bring some balance to the rampant sexism that dominates the mainstream culture. Fact is there are already female emcees that could fit this description—Jean Grae comes easiest to mind. But ignored by the industry and relegated to the underground they remain woefully under-exposed. A Fairness Doctrine that sheds light on these artists—those lesser known, not yet discovered or even not yet inspired—might go a long way in giving Hip Hop the balance it needs.

Why Now?

There are several reasons. One is simply momentum. Despite the misinformation spread by media pundits, the call for reform in Hip Hop existed before Don Imus. Activists, conferences, summits, articles, documentaries, campaigns, grassroots organizations and artists have long pushed for substantial change. Late last year one of the culture’s reigning elites declared "Hip Hop is Dead" and sparked furious debate all throughout the culture. So the issue is nothing new. However, with the Don Imus controversy using Hip Hop as a scapegoat, the long simmering discussion exploded once again. To not seize on this momentum, despite how it was initiated, would be a missed opportunity. Second, from the moment the Imus controversy erupted many of us knew instinctively that Hip Hop would take the blame—unfairly or not. Detractors exploited the incident to attack Hip Hop, and numerous groups outside of the culture now feel the pressure to do something. What will emerge from this is hard to say at the moment. But if the voices of those within Hip Hop are drowned out in the rush to solutions, we may find ourselves in the Orwellian nightmare Nas prophesied, or something close. If it’s not with this controversy, it will be another. Even racist army training videos from Germany—the country that gave the world Nazism—are allowed to conveniently use Hip Hop as a foil. We need to be out in front because despite all its faults, no one understands or loves our culture more than us. Lastly, the Don Imus controversy was monumental in a way that most have ignored. As pointed out in a previous article, racist comments from the Don Imus show were common; this was not a new event. What was new was the reaction by advertisers and broadcasters. For reasons not altogether clear, they blinked. In an unprecedented move corporate backers pulled out of the Imus show, and his media backers were forced to drop him. If the Imus controversy has done anything, it has shown us that the industry forces that have long stood in the way of reform in Hip Hop are not immovable. When bad publicity threatens their long-term profits, they can be forced to change. But as the week and a half drive against Don Imus showed, it takes determined action.